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Star Wars Directors: What's Going on?

Who shot first? Lucasfilm and Trevorrow have ‘mutually parted’, but what’s really going on with the Star Wars directors?

What is going on with Lucasfilm and its directors? The recent announcement that Colin Trevorrow would not be directing Episode 9, marked the third time that Lucasfilm parted ways with a director since Disney bought the company.
Let’s take a look at the casualty ward and the lady in charge of the Star Wars films, Kathleen Kennedy, to see what’s going on.

The Trail of Destruction

When Disney bought out Lucasfilm in 2012, they announced that a sequel trilogy and standalone films would be made. Because you don’t spend $4 billion on a franchise to not have it make you money.
To help power the hype train and put tremendous pressure on filmmakers, director announcements followed almost immediately afterwards. Here’s how the chips fell.

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The Fantastic Trank – Source: Variety

Josh Trank

Josh Trank burst onto the movie scene with a smash hit debut, Chronicle in 2012. A huge Star Wars fan, he produced a short YouTube video entitled Stabbing at Leia’s 22nd Birthday. This video drew the attention of Hollywood and not too long after, Trank was picked to direct the Max Landis scripted, Chronicle. 
The success of Chronicle led to the announcement that Trank would be directing an untitled Star Wars anthology film. However, once stories began to circulate about his next project Fox’s Fantastic Four, his tenure with Lucasfilm looked shaky.
Trank was reportedly vague and uncommunicative on set, making the producers of the ultimately terrible film nervous. Lucasfilm were paying close attention and announced that they had mutually parted ways with the director shortly after the release of Fantastic Four.
So what do we make of this one? Trank certainly proved that he is talented with Chronicle. But it appears that he wasn’t ready for the pressure that comes with a big studio franchise. Trank worked with a $12 million budget for Chronicle, whereas Fantastic Four cost Sony $155 million. It seems like he didn’t step up to the big league well. So it’s hard to argue with Lucasfilm on the call to drop him.

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Gareth Edwards on set – Source: Slash Film

Rogue One

I freaking loved Rogue One. I loved its premise, I loved its morally grey characters and I really loved the ending. But the ending we saw was different to the one originally shot by director, Gareth Edwards.
Before production finished, there was word of executive dissatisfaction and extensive re-shoots. And we know that many scenes viewed in the trailer didn’t make it into the movie. Writer and director Tony Gilroy was brought on to oversee the third act re-shoots and to re-work some of the dialogue.
I think this was less about Disney’s lack of confidence in Edwards and more a symptom of production that wasn’t clearly defined from the beginning.
An interview with Gilroy in February reveals a unique production process. Where the story was conceptualised from a collage of other movies (like Aliens. I’d love to see that!) before a script was even written. From there, the movie’s major action sequences were developed. All this work was done before there was even a script!
So, a different scenario from that of Trank. But another example of tight hold that Disney and Lucasfilm executives have over their franchise. I wonder what would happen to a director (or directors) who tried to put their own unique style into a Star Wars Movie? (Oh, what ominous foreshadowing).

Lord and Miller in happier times – Source:

Lord and Miller

Rarely has a director (or directors) been dismissed in the midst of shooting a movie. But Phil Lord and Chris Miller found themselves in that ignominious position while working on the Han Solo Star Wars Anthology film.
Let it be known that Lord and Miller are no hacks. As directors, they have given us Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street, and The Lego Movie. All terrific films, in my opinion, and they’ve been even more prolific as producers. They’ve also got credits from How I met Your Mother, to Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and one of my personal favourites Son of Zorn (I’ve sworn a bloody vengeance on those responsible for it’s cancellation).
So what happened here? Well it seems as though Lord and Miller, known for a particular comedic and improvisational style, were straying too far from the script, story and tone that Lucasfilm wanted for their movie (as we wrote about here).
So once again, the execs had their way, and Ron Howard was brought on to finish the film, and presumably re-shoot some scenes.

Episode Nine: The Executive Strikes Back…again

Which brings is to the latest news that Colin Trevorrow, director of Jurassic World, has been sacked four months after the start of Episode Nine production. This just leaves The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi as the only post-Disney-takeover films without some kind of director replacement/interference.
The news about Trevorrow echos that of Trank, except that the difficulty with Trevorrow was that he was getting a bit full of himself. Acting like he had directed Jurassic Park instead of the easy, soft reboot that was Jurassic World. Talented as he is, Spielberg he ain’t.
So, who’s been behind all the decisions to interfere with the artists directing these films? There’s probably not just one person calling all the shots from Disney / Lucasfilm (the interchangeable antagonists of this article). But you could bet that a large chunk of their decision making process involved Kathleen Kennedy.

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Kathleen and Mark: Source:

Kathleen Kennedy. She made your childhood good!

Kathleen Kennedy began her film-making life as an associate to Stephen Spielberg on a little film called Raiders of the Lost Ark. She’s gone on to produce just about all that great film-maker has made ever since. This includes everything Indiana Jones, everything Back to the FutureGremlins, Jurassic Park and many more. She’s had a hand in most of my cherished childhood favourites. She’s quite amazing.
In 2012, she was named co-chair of Lucasfilm, with none other than George Lucas himself. She became the sole president of the company when it was bought by the House of Mouse in the $4 Billion dollar deal of 2012.
Kennedy isn’t the kind of clueless executive we often think of inhabiting the luxurious office spaces of Hollywood. When someone with her kind of production pedigree speaks, people listen. Considering the money paid by Disney for the franchise, the prestige of the franchise itself, the production experience and reputation of Kennedy, puts the dumping of these directors into perspective.
There’s probably no one in Hollywood with her success. There aren’t too many movies as well known as the Star Wars movies. If anyone in the industry can afford to treat directors so flippantly, it’s her (and her company – and Disney).
And it’s hard to say that the art has suffered greatly as a result. The movies released to date have been great, though many feel that there’s a certain sort of corporate safeness to The Force Awakens and Rogue One. I agree with those people, but I also kind of like the very thing they are complaining about (and so does the movie going public).

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Rian Johnson and someone’s daughter – Source:

Where to from here?

So, Trevorrow is gone. Who will replace him? Many names have been thrown in the mix, including J.J. Abrams and The Last Jedi’s director Rian Johnson. Whoever it its, surely by now they have the message that Lucasfilm will not suffer your inexperience, ego, or your own unique style to mess with your brand.
So let’s all spare a thought for the future directors of the Obi-Wan film and Episode Nine. They will clearly be stepping into an environment that will be ruthless when it comes to the final product.
Hit me up on Twitter @benaldridge58 with your suggestions for director of Episode 9!

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